Sparks fly in Argentina

Film program draws fire; foes want coin to aid public health, education

BUENOS AIRES — San Luis is facing mounting protest against its pretensions to become the Hollywood of Argentina.

Recent violent demonstrations in the capital showed fierce opposition to a stimulus package for lensing films and TV programs in the heartland province, population 370,000.

On four occasions, demonstrations forced TV comedian Ruben “Dady” Brieva from shooting his freshman pic “Pedile a San Antonio,” a dramatic comedy about a fashion designer harboring a guerrilla during the 1976-82 military dictatorship. Police had to step in to protect the crew.

Other demonstrators burned the front door of an office of Red Lojo Entertainment, a production company with two projects under way that have received state benefits.

The target of the protests is the film program. San Luis Gov. Alberto Rodriguez Saa and his brother Adolfo, a national congressman best known for declaring Argentina’s massive debt default during his seven days as president in 2001, devised it four years ago to attract production to the farming and ranching province, helping to create jobs and spur tourism.

The provincial legislature passed it into law last year, giving the brothers a $10 million annual budget for financing films.

So far, the province, now nicknamed “Hollyluis,” has granted credits, co-production money, tax breaks and technical assistance to 14 pics, including Nicolas Tuozzo’s “Proxima salida” and Tristan Bauer’s “Iluminados por el fuego.” Another six are in production. And earlier this year, Faye Dunaway presented a project to shoot parts of her directing debut “Master Class” in the province.

Such is the attraction that airplanes are now traveling full to San Luis, not half empty as before, Jorge “Corcho” Rodriguez, head of Red Lojo, tells Variety.

With funds from the province, his outfit is producing telenovela “Salvame Maria” with celeb thesp Andrea del Boca, and “Arbol de fuego,” the freshman directing effort of Oscar-winning art director Eugenio Zanetti.

Opponents, meanwhile, accuse the Rodriguez Saas of using the healthily budgeted film program to mask a poor administration. Foes want the money to go instead to education, public health and infrastructure, and to increasing salaries for teachers and state workers. They’ve vowed to continue the protest.

“In San Luis, there’s going to be violence and we’re going to fight until the end,” says former congressman Raul Laborda Ibarra, a leader of the demonstrations.

While this may spook filmmakers wanting to work in the province, Red Lojo’s Rodriguez shrugs it off. He describes the incidents as “political and isolated,” saying they are part of a buildup to midterm elections later in the year.

“This won’t have any impact on filming in the province,” he says. “We will continue operating normally.”